PBA Backs Rate Increase for Defense Attorneys

A group of Philadelphia criminal defense attorneys for the indigent suing the city to increase their rates have gained the support of the Philadelphia Bar Association in their effort.

During the Board of Governors meeting held in April, the board endorsed increasing court appointed counsel fees because the fees remain “oppressively low,” according to the resolution.

The resolution authorized a special committee to study the issue of court appointed counsel fees and authorized Chancellor Mike Pratt to work on the issue with the committee and the bar association sections affected by the issue.

Troy H. Wilson, of Wilson & Wilson and chair of the bar association’s criminal justice section, said the unanimous passage of the resolution “made me feel good. The whole bar association understands the intricate nature” of the issue.

A group of defense attorneys who represent court-appointed clients too poor to afford their own attorneys have filed a federal lawsuit in Eastern District Court challenging the constitutionality of the fee regime as inadequate to prepare fair defenses of their clients.

Wilson hopes for a “quick and expeditious” resolution of the matter with the city. Addressing court appointed counsel fees is one of Wilson’s key goals for the criminal justice section this year.

He expects to meet with Mayor Michael Nutter in the next few weeks. “The mayor wants to address this issue, which is good to hear,” Wilson said.

Leaving the matter unaddressed can cost the city more in the long run, Wilson said, because attorneys unable to handle criminal defenses without adequate resources require the city to defend Post Conviction Relief Act matters further down the line.

The lawsuit in Stretton v. Jones contends that fees do not allow adequate representation of indigent clients because the reimbursement rates for experts are so low and because the reimbursement rates for the attorneys themselves don’t cover law practice overhead.

The lawsuit complaint also contends that the payment regime violates indigent defendants’ constitutional rights and counsel’s ethical obligations under the Rules of Professional Conduct.
The current court-appointed system pays:

  • A $2,000 preparation fee for homicide, including capital, cases, as well as $400 per day for each day of trial after the first half-day.
  • A $650 preparation fee for other felony cases, as well as $350 per day for each day of trial after the first half-day.
  • A $350 flat rate for misdemeanor cases.
  • $50 per hour in court and $40 per hour out of court for non-homicide appeals.
  • $60 per hour in court and $50 per hour out of court for homicide, including capital, cases.
  •  A $400 fee for felony juvenile cases and a $300 fee for non-felony juvenile cases.

The named plaintiffs in the lawsuit include attorneys Samuel C. Stretton, Mingo Stroeber, Leanne Litwin and Bruce Wolf, as well as five of Stretton’s court-appointed clients. Stretton is litigating the case.

— Amaris Elliott-Engel, Staff Reporter

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